Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Dismal Start" for Auto Sales in May

by Bill McBride on 5/22/2011 11:45:00 AM

J.D. Power and Associates: High Gas Prices and Lower Incentive Levels Contributing to Dismal Start for May New-Vehicle Retail Sales (ht Tim waiting for 2012)

"Retail sales in May are being hit by several negative variables—specifically, high gas prices, lower incentive levels and some inventory shortages," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. "As a result, the industry will likely be dealing with a lower sales pace at least through the summer selling season, putting pressure on the 2011 outlook."
J.D. Power is projecting total light vehicle sales of 11.9 million in May (SAAR: seasonally adjusted annual rate). This would be down from 13.2 million in April, and only up slightly from 11.6 million in May 2010.

The projected decline in sales is mostly due to the tragedy in Japan and related supply chain issues:
The earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear power plant crisis in Japan have caused numerous production disruptions thus far due to parts shortages for the Japanese manufacturers. This is expected to continue throughout the second quarter of 2011, with more than 400,000 units of production expected to be lost in the short term.
However most of the decline in production will be in Japan:
The North American production forecast in 2011 has been reduced slightly, with volume now rounding down to 12.8 million units (from 12.9 million units).
So auto production in the U.S. is forecast to decline slightly although retail sales will be off sharply over the next six months.

There are already articles suggesting smart buyers wait until the automakers start offering incentives again. From Jerry Hirsch at the LA Times: Best option for car shoppers: Postpone buying
"If people were paying attention they would have bought in March and April. Now, if they have the latitude, it is probably best to wait," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com
Vehicle SalesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.

The dashed line is April estimated sales rate of 13.2 million SAAR.

The sales rate will probably drop back to the level of last summer for the next 6 months or so, and then rebound later this year. This auto slowdown has already shown up in the regional manufacturing surveys - and also in the initial weekly unemployment claims.

The key is this decline is being driven mostly by events in Japan, and is not a sign of overall weakness in the economy. Although this will be drag on GDP growth in Q2 and Q3, I don't think the drag will be huge.

Yesterday ...
Summary for Week Ending May 20th
Schedule for Week of May 22nd